Posts Tagged ‘monarch’

Late Season Visit to Monarch Meadow

Purple milkweed going to seed stands conspicuously in the otherwise dried out meadow.

As July ended, super hot weather was predicted for the first week of August. I figured I’d better get out one more time before getting stuck inside for a week (or most of the month, as it turned out). So on July 31, I headed back to what I call Monarch Meadow, southeast of Oakridge, to look for ripe purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) seeds and any sign of monarchs. It was in the low 90’s by afternoon, so I wasn’t up for anything taxing, but a stiff breeze kept me surprisingly comfortable.

The glistening coma (tuft of long hairs) on the purple milkweed seeds and the shapely purple pods add another season of beauty to this lovely species.

A chrysalis hanging from large-flowered collomia. Monarch chrysalises are usually transparent after the butterfly emerges, so I’m guessing either this is a different species or the butterfly did not survive the chrysalis stage.

The milkweed was completely finished blooming, and many of the leaves were drying up, so I didn’t expect to see any caterpillars or adult monarchs. I hoped to maybe find a chrysalis, but that would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. But amazingly enough, some fading flowers of large-flowered collomia (Collomia grandiflora) caught my eye, and there, hanging from a leaf, was an empty chrysalis. While I can’t be sure it was that of a monarch, it was the same shape. There were butterflies in the meadow, and the first time I caught sight of orange flying by I hoped for a second it would be a monarch. Instead, it was one of many California tortoiseshells on the wing in the area. As I’d seen on my trip to Echo Basin (see previous report), tortoiseshells were suddenly arriving in the Western Cascades in great numbers. There were dozens of them flying up and down the river by Campers Flat when I went to cool off at the end of the day. So glad to have them back!

Lots of grasshoppers of many colors were jumping around the meadow. This one perfectly matched the color of the dead, non-native dogtail grass (Cynosurus echinatus).

Western rayless fleabane is not what you’d call a showy species, but the spider in the back attests to the fact that it is of interest to insects as it blooms when most other flowers are gone.

Monarch Meadow was quite dried out, as one would expect at an elevation of 2400′ after 7 weeks of drought, but there still a few flowers in bloom. On my earlier trip here in June (see Hidden Meadow Reveals a Thrilling Secret), I had spotted an odd plant I had guessed was a composite, although it didn’t even have any buds yet. It looked similar to the common leafy fleabane (Erigeron foliosus), but the growth habit wasn’t quite right. After seeing it later in the season at several other low elevation meadows in the area, and finally spotting it in bloom, I had identified it as western rayless fleabane (Erigeron inornatus), a species I’d never even heard of before. In fact, I found it in five different sites this summer. This was my first time back to this site, so I was happy to see it still blooming to confirm my guess that it was the same species as at all the other sites. As a low-elevation species, I’d missed it in the past by always moving up to higher elevations by the time it bloomed.

The tiny flowers of sticky birdbeak (Cordylanthus tenuis) appear quite late in the season. You can imagine a resemblance to the related but much showier paintbrushes (Castilleja spp.).

Sticky birdbeak (Cordylanthus tenuis) was finally in bloom. This species is also uncommon but appears frequently in the Rigdon area and in the other purple milkweed spots. After collecting some seeds of meadow plants, including some of the milkweed, whose capsules were just starting to ripen, I headed back down to Rigdon Road 21 and over to Mutton Meadow to look for more seeds to collect. The sticky birdbeak is also abundant there. A few other late bloomers were in evidence in vernally moist spots in this meadow. The airy white inflorescences of Gairdner’s yampah (Perideridia gairdneri) stood well above the other dried up plants. Their tubers must store a lot of water in the spring for them to send up the leaves and flowers after most everything else has died. The pink-flowered densely-flowered boisduvalia (Epilobium densiflorum) is a late bloomer that can be found in low-elevation seeps and vernally moist meadows. I hadn’t noticed it there before, but again, visiting areas at the end of their seasons can often be quite interesting and worthwhile. All in all, it was quite a pleasant day, even more so a month later as I write this, stuck in the house surrounded by thick smoke and unable to go back there until the rains return and douse the Staley Fire in the Rigdon area.

Chaparral rein orchid (Platanthera [Piperia] elongata), also known as long-spurred piperia, is a late-blooming woodland orchid (in our area anyway). Although uncommon in Oregon, it grows in a number of places in the Rigdon area, so finding it in the forest on the way up to Monarch Meadow wasn’t a surprise.

Another New Milkweed and Monarch Site!

After all the great luck we’d been having finding purple milkweed in the Rigdon area of southeastern Lane County, I was determined to find some more sites. With the exception of Grassy Glade, all the other sites were on the north side of Rigdon Road 21 and the Middle Fork of the Willamette. Surely there must be some other areas on the south side. I spent some time on Google Earth, looking for all the openings I could find between Big Pine Opening and Grassy Glade that appeared to be meadows between 2400–3600′, similar to those we had been surveying. I found at least a half dozen or so promising spots, but one in particular seemed like a good place to start.

Milkweed, buckwheat, and rabbitbrush growing in “Maple Creek Meadow”. Diamond Peak can be seen to the east. The ridge in the backround was burned in the 2009 Tumblebug Fire.

Read the rest of this entry »

Farther Up “Milkweed Ridge”

Like many openings in the area, the southernmost one in the complex had Oregon white oaks (Quercus garryana) being crowded out by ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) and other conifers. Enhancing oak habitat has been the main focus of restoration in the area. Hopefully now improving the area for milkweed and monarchs will also be a priority.

Having found purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) and monarchs at Monarch Meadow (see Hidden Meadow Reveals a Thrilling Secret) and at the meadow complex north of there (see A Week of Monarchs and Milkweed: Day 1), the next logical place to check was another complex of openings even farther up the ridge. On July 5, Joe Doerr and I headed up there to investigate. These openings also follow the old road that the middle complex is along, so we felt particularly confident we would find more milkweed. We decided to drive in from the north on an old but (barely) driveable road. I had been on that road several times years ago, to access what Sabine and I call “Gateway Rock Ridge” (see First Outing of the New Year for the most recent trip), but I can’t imagine doing it now. The tire tracks seemed to be sinking down and lots of vegetation was reaching out into the road from the surrounding forest. Thank goodness we were in a Forest Service rig!

Unfortunately, mortality is very high for these tiny monarch caterpillars. Most get picked off by wasps and other predators when they are quite small.

We parked at the top of the old road and saw ground rose (Rosa spithamea) in bloom right by the car. From there we walked south. Before long we came to the first opening, lying right along the ridge. Sticky birdbeak (Cordylanthus tenuis) grew abundantly here along with western rayless fleabane (Erigeron inornatus). These normally uncommon species have been showing up at most of the other milkweed sites, so it was a good sign. There had also evidently been a great display of showy tarweed (Madia elegans), but it was already shriveling up in the heat of the day. We didn’t spot any milkweed at first, but then we started to see it scattered about in several openings. We found monarch caterpillars and eggs as well. Mission accomplished! We walked as far down the road as the uppermost meadow of the middle complex that we’d both already been to on separate trips. So now we knew the area all along the old road and started back toward the car. Read the rest of this entry »

A Week of Monarchs and Milkweed: Day 3

A variable checkerspot straddling the individual small flowers of spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) to sip the sweet nectar. Milkweed species were recently moved into the dogbane family, Apocynaceae. They both share the trait of milky sap in their stems and are both beloved by butterflies as well as other insects.

For the second day of our camping trip, Nancy and I went up to Twin Lakes and what I call the BVD Meadow, both accessed from the same parking spot at the end of Twin Lakes Road 4770. I’d never seen (or felt) the road in such poor condition with many miles of washboard and areas starting to wash out a bit. My van survived without flatting another tire, but on returning to the campground, I discovered I’d lost a hubcap. The flowers were good, though farther along than I expected at the meadow, and we went for a nice swim at Twin Lakes, but both places were buggier than I ever remember. So far, it has been a particularly bad year for mosquitoes in the Western Cascades. Read the rest of this entry »

A Week of Monarchs and Milkweed: Day 2

Two monarch caterpillars sharing the same purple milkweed plant.

Nancy Bray and I had been planning a trip to the North Umpqua for quite a while. I was rather torn between going to some of my favorite places in Douglas County and looking for more milkweed and monarch sites. As luck would have it, I was able to do both. While checking the distribution of purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) on the Oregon Flora Project Atlas, I had noticed one record of milkweed on Medicine Creek Road 4775 in the North Umpqua area from 1994. While out with Crystal Shepherd on Monday, she told me she used to work at the Diamond Lake District and had seen the milkweed at that site just 5 years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

A Week of Monarchs and Milkweed: Day 1

Monarch in flight

After finding monarchs at “Monarch Meadow” the previous week (see Hidden Meadow Reveals a Thrilling Secret), I could hardly wait to get back to the area to search for more purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) and more monarchs. Molly Juillerat had gone to Monarch Meadow the following day, and on Monday, June 26, she had Crystal Shepherd, her seasonal botanist, go out to the meadow area just north of Monarch Meadow. I had planned to go there myself, so I jumped at the chance to go with Crystal. After I had suggested that as a likely next spot to investigate, Joe Doerr, Willamette National Forest wildlife biologist, had gone up there and found both milkweed and monarchs, as well as monarch eggs. So our job was to do a more careful survey of the area. Read the rest of this entry »

Hidden Meadow Reveals a Thrilling Secret

Purple milkweed is a gorgeous plant with glaucous leaves and garnet-colored flowers

In November of 2012, I went exploring down along Rigdon Road 21 southeast of Hills Creek Reservoir, an area I spend a lot of time visiting, as readers of this blog no doubt have noticed. There’s a small old quarry between Campers Flat campground and Big Pine Opening. I thought I’d see what was in the rocky area up top. The woods were fairly open so I continued up the ridge and popped out in a rocky meadow. While it was well past blooming season, I enjoy “forensic botany”—trying to identify species in various states of decay or at least past flowering. I saw some saxifrages rejuvenated by fall rains, a flower or two left on the late-blooming fall knotweed (Polygonum spergulariiforme), and evidence of bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata). But what really excited me was a few clumps of dried stalks with old capsules filled with silk-topped seeds—a milkweed! Read the rest of this entry »

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